WHEN CHINA’S president, Xi Jinping, visited the leading party and state news organizations Feb. 19, he demanded absolute loyalty to the Communist Party, saying the media must “have the party as their family name.” His purpose was to cajole and intimidate. But for intimidation to work, it has to inspire fear. This week, a Chinese news organization showed that it was not afraid.
The publication, Caixin Media, is headed by one of China’s most respected journalists, Hu Shuli, who has often pioneered reporting that exposed failures by the state and private sector. Her journalism has pushed the limits of what’s permissible in a nation where free expression and independent journalism are usually and routinely suffocated by the state.
On Tuesday, Caixin Media’s English-language website reported that the Cyberspace Administration of China, which it described as a government censorship office, had ordered the removal of an article on Caixin’s Chinese site, saying the article contained “illegal content.”
The article quoted Jiang Hong, who advises the government on economic policy, as saying that people like himself should feel free to give their opinions to party leaders about economics, politics, cultural and societal issues. His comments came at the same time as the annual meeting in Beijing of the National People’s Congress. He insisted “the rights to speak freely must be protected” but lamented that a chill was in the air, saying “everyone is a bit dazed and doesn’t want to talk too much. That’s what the atmosphere is like now.” Mr. Jiang did not say why there is a chill, but it is not hard to guess: China’s economic slowdown, the government’s halting response and Mr. Xi’s severe, ongoing crackdown against dissent.
To its credit, Caixin Media was not to be intimidated by the censor’s hand or Mr. Xi’s exhortations. Soon after the article in Chinese was removed, the news organization posted a new article on its English-language website, revealing the censorship, accompanied by a photograph of a mouth that had been sealed with tape. Caixin also interviewed Mr. Jiang again. He described the censorship as “baffling,” “terrible and bewildering” and said he examined the original article and “I couldn’t see anything illegal.” Not long after, the English-language article disappeared, too, although a cached version remained online.
If Mr. Xi believed that his demands for loyalty would be met with obsequious passivity, Caixin Media has demonstrated otherwise. Even the most determined journalists in China have often had to make delicate calculations about how far to go in reporting, balancing the risks of possible censorship and punishment. In this case, Caixin decided to confront the censor with the most potent response available: sunlight. It was a display of courage, however brief.